Saturday, June 20, 2009

Me and My Big Mouth

I think he wanted my approval. What he said was, "What do you think?" But when I told him, he looked down, his lips forming a line crinkled at both ends like a piece of salt water taffy wrapped in wax paper, and then he asked again, "Yes, but what do you really think?" Certain I'd spoken the King's English, I decided to take the advice of my psychiatric instructor: if at first they don't understand, try it again -- only slower. It must have been as frustrating as watching The Babe miss an easy hit. His face assumed its previous expression and, like a child who wants to believe "no" means "maybe," he tried once more, this time the temperature rising noticeably in his tone. "Okay, I get that, but you still haven't told me what you think!"

Readers who are or have been parents of teenagers are probably thinking, "Been there, done that." Except I'm not writing about a dialogue with a teenager; this conversation took place with a grown man. And I gave him my honest opinion -- really, I did. The problem was, what I thought was at odds with what he expected.

Somewhere along the line he'd gotten the idea that he was more acceptable as a person if he approached others somewhat submissively. If he appeared respectful, friendly, and admiring, others would respond in kind while offering advice, leadership, and affirmation. Makes sense, I guess. It must have worked for him. I'm also guessing his growing frustration rose out of his unspoken (and unconscious) belief that because I was older, I would naturally respond like his father might in a similar situation.

How does a guy get like this? I'm betting if we got father and son together, we'd see similarities. "Like father, like son" holds true for more than a love of baseball. Always the nice guy who wished to be affirmed, even by his children, his father probably gave approval easily. Junior learned by watching a master at work.

Enter the unsuspecting Beggar. Mistakenly, I thought I was addressing a friend who wanted my perspective. With each succeeding question, however, it became clearer that I was being set up: You're older, you're like my dad, and because I'm a nice guy you should be forthcoming with the answer I want; if you don't, I'm going to be mad at you. Well, I tried and see what it got me?

Me and my big mouth.

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